Given his experience and success with the country’s women’s football programme, Lorne Donaldson says a return to lead the senior Reggae Girlz team is basically to pick up where they left off, especially at this crucial stage, with another Fifa Women’s World Cup qualification on the line.
Donaldson, who along with Hue Menzies took over the female programme in 2015, with an aim to shape the structure of the female programmes in the island, believes they did so for the most part.
The two — along with Xavier Gilbert, Andrew Price, Hubert Busby and others along the way — won the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Under-17 Championship, topped the Caribbean in Under-20 qualifiers, and, more significantly, saw the senior team to a historic Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance in France in 2019.
However, after Menzies vacated the head coach position, Donaldson, who led the team on an interim basis, opted not to permanently take up the top job, citing unprofessional behaviour by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) hierarchy.
Still, the tactician at the time of his leaving expressed that he still had the players best interest at heart.
It is that love for the players and, by extension, the country that Donaldson explained, resulted in his making himself available to succeed Vinimore “Vin” Blaine, who resigned from the post just over two weeks ago.
Blaine, who was reappointed in December following Busby’s suspension, decided to walk away from the programme even after gaining the JFF’s confidence in an issue during which 20 players signed a two-page letter calling for his removal.
“I heard about it but I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the coach left and the players needed some help and they asked me to come in and help; so I decided to make myself available. For me it’s love for country and love for the players, that’s all there is to it,” Donaldson told the Jamaica Observer from his base in Colorado.
“We still have to work out some stuff with the JFF regarding terms of what we are going to work on. But the focus for now is on how we can qualify and to get stuff moving as quick as we can to give us the best chance of qualifying. I won’t go pass that as yet,” he added when asked about the length of his stay on this occasion.
For this, his second stint, Donaldson will lead the Girlz for the upcoming Concacaf Women’s Championship in Mexico, as they hunt a second-consecutive Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance in Australia and New Zealand next year.
The 51st-ranked Jamaicans are drawn in Group A alongside World champions United States, host Mexico and Caribbean neighbours Haiti for the July 4-18 tournament in Monterrey.
“It’s basically picking up where we left off but the circumstances are a lot different, I think the flow of what we do right or how well we do right now, will be dictated by our preparation and the resources available at our disposal.
“That will make so much difference, because we now have a little bit more experienced players that we can rely on to do certain things and obviously we have to get an experienced coaching staff to pull everything out of these girls,” Donaldson said.
“We have to have a setup where we can all co-exist and have the confidence in each other to get the job done. So we want to continue doing certain things that we used to do, but there are a few new faces; so we have to change with the time and ensure that whatever we are doing is in the best interest of the group,” he added.
Despite being caught in a race against time with the tournament now less that five weeks out, the former national representative, who was named United Soccer Coaches’ Association Youth Coach of the Year in 2017, is banking on experience to ensure the Girlz are ready heading in.
But, he is of no illusion that qualifying will come easy and pointed out that his support staff, to be named, will hit the ground running.
“We want to qualify but I know it’s not going to be an easy task. You know the team, you know the competition and I think we have players that can get it done. But we have to get everything right to ensure players are comfortable and focused and then we go from there,” Donaldson noted.
“So we have to just use our experience right now and what we do over the next 24 hours is going to be very important to how we proceed. We have to draw on our knowledge of what needs to be done and put some stuff in place.
“I can’t say extensively what that is now, but there has to be a camp, it could be a massive camp which leads us straight into the tournament, but there has to be something in place. Obviously we are going to contact the players whose seasons have ended, to ensure they are doing some work on their own for now,” the former Cavalier and Kingston College stalwart ended.
Meanwhile, the Michael Ricketts-led JFF executive, in confirming as the best candidate to lead the charge at this point in time, promised its full support to the coach and his team.
“We looked at all the dynamics involved, including the short period to prepare, and agreed that Lorne brings specific advantages to the position including familiarity with regional football culture and knowledge of the players and is well placed to navigate the team through what will be a difficult qualifying exercise.
“The JFF will give all the necessary support to him and the team, and we are confident that they will make Jamaica proud in Mexico,” Ricketts said in a widely circulated release.